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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - Great Lakes Water Protection Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KIRK. Mr. President, today I rise to join with Senator DURBIN to introduce the Great Lakes Water Protection Act. This bipartisan legislation would set a date certain to end sewage dumping in the Great Lakes, America's largest source of surface fresh water. The Great Lakes are home to more than 3,500 species of plants and animals and are the source of drinking water for more than 30 million Americans. It is time that we put a stop to the poisoning of our water supply. Cities along the Great Lakes must become environmental stewards of our country's most precious freshwater ecosystem and take action to reverse the trend of discharging sewage into the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Water Protection Act gives cities until 2033 to build the necessary infrastructure to prevent sewage dumping in the Great Lakes. Those who violate the EPA's sewage dumping regulations after this deadline will be subject to fines up to $100,000 for every day they are in violation. These fines would be directed into a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund within the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to be used for wastewater treatment options, with a special focus on greener solutions such as habitat protection and wetland restoration.

Many cities along the Great Lakes Basin lack the critical infrastructure needed to divert sewage overflows during times of heavy rainfall. Some reports estimate that as much as 24 billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water runoff are dumped into the Great Lakes every year. Loaded with a mix of bacteria and other pathogens, untreated sewage poses a serious threat to public health and safety and is one of the leading causes of beach closings and contamination advisories at Great Lakes beaches.

According to data collected over the past 5 years by the Illinois Department of Public Health, it is not uncommon to see the total number of beach closures and contamination advisories across the Lake Michigan beaches in our State exceed 500 in a single swim season. These events threaten the health of our children and families and cost local economies millions. A University of Chicago study concluded the closings due to high levels of harmful pathogens like E.coli cost the local economy about $2.4 million each year in lost revenue.

Protecting the Great Lakes is one of my top priorities in Congress. As an original cosponsor of the Great Lakes Restoration Act, I support a broad approach to address some of the greatest challenges to the Great Lakes ecosystem and the economic growth of the region. However, while we continue to push for comprehensive Great Lakes restoration, we must also move forward with tailored approaches to tackle specific problems.

I am proud to introduce this important legislation to end the disastrous practice of releasing billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our Nation's most abundant source of freshwater. It is my hope that my colleagues will work with me to to preserve the Great Lakes and ensure this source of safe drinking water is safeguarded for future generations.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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